Advisory. May 16, 2007. For your information, I had written to Dr. Chee, of the SDP, yesterday to have this article posted on the SDP website in response to Mr. M Ravi's letter. However Dr. Chee had decided instead to remove Mr. Ravi's letter from his website. Dr. Chee's decision was right. I will retain this article here for the benefit of those who had previously read Mr. M Ravi's letter before it's removal by Dr. Chee.
Best regards to you and to Dr. Chee.
Gopalan Nair May 16, 2007
2nd Advisory. June 16, 2007. Since my last observation of SDP Website removing Mr. Ravi's article, SDP now have it on their website as "Vantage" appearing on the right. My article below is a response to his retort to Professor Lee.
Best regards to you and to Dr. Chee.
Gopalan Nair June 16, 2007
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Kindly refer to Professor Yvonne Lee's letter to the Straits Times of May 04, 07, headed "Decriminalizing homosexual acts would be an error" and the letter of Mr. M Ravi, an Advocate and Solicitor of the Singapore Bar in rebuttal to it, published in the present Singapore Democrat Website of the Singapore Democratic Party.
Mr. Ravi appears to miss the point. I think what Professor Lee's principal point is this. The constitution of a country just as the laws, should reflect the the prevailing norms, acceptable social behaviour and prejudices prevailing in a country at any point of time. In other words, the constitution should be a mirror image and keep evolving as the country and it's attitudes to social behaviour changes. Here the Professor is absolutely right. Anyone who understands constitutional law will appreciate that laws and the constitution should keep pace with changing values and beliefs of a country. It was never intended to be read literally and applied by rote.
Any country or society at any moment is the result and product of it's long history, culture and religion which dictate what is acceptable in a society and what is not. Certain behaviours may be accepted as the norm in Copenhagen but it may not be acceptable in Cairo, despite the fact that both Copenhagen and Cairo both have constitutions that require equality before the law. This is because Denmark, a European country has developed quite differently from United Arab Republic which is predominantly Muslim. Homosexuality may be very acceptable in Copenhagen but criminal in Cairo! This is what Mr. Ravi fails to understand. What the Professor is trying to do is to explain that the applicability of the constitutional provisions have to be tempered by the prevailing conditions in any country at any point in it's history. What Mr. Ravi wants instead to do is to say that since the words of the constitution refer to "equality", it should therefore be strictly applied regardless of the circumstances. This is not a correct understanding of the Constitution.
The Constitution should not be read separately and literally at any moment if time and given effect without more. In other words it should not become an instrument of oppression where people live under it like an albatross around their necks, but where it compliments society's aspirations and thinking and changing where it needs to change keeping pace with societal change.
What Professor Lee is trying to say is that the equality clause should treat like with like. In other words, if we are talking about gays, then equality within their group. And if you are dealing with normal orientation, then within the normal orientation.
Singapore is an Asian country with Asian values. Almost all the native inhabitants are if not first generation, mere second or third generation of immigrants and local Malays who practice Islam. What Professor Lee is trying to say is that Singapore is not Amsterdam, and it is unlikely to be Amsterdam in the near future either, if ever. In Amsterdam, it would be perfectly proper for 2 men to passionately kiss each other in public, but I doubt if that behaviour will not attract angry responses if not violence if done along Serangoon Road in front of Tekka.
Every country evolves with time. 100 years ago in the United States, it was permissible to discriminate against blacks. That was acceptable then, but no longer now. In the same way the constitution and laws of the US similarly have evolved to keep pace with the change in thinking of the Americans.
What Mr. Ravi has to focus upon is the issue of homosexuality. Not any other kind of behaviour. Homosexuality is unacceptable in a great many countries and in Islamic countries it is illegal and severely punishable. It is the same in the Hindu tradition and in the Chinese Taoist and traditional Chinese culture. This is the ingrained integral part of thinking of many of the people who populate Singapore, perhaps even the majority.
To permit homosexuality would amount to nothing less than a fundamental change in the values of the majority of Singaporeans. The question being put in Singapore is whether the law should be fundamentally changed to make an act which was taboo for generations upon generations to become suddenly acceptable because the Singapore Constitution has a clause that says people should be treated similarly. What Mr. Ravi has to appreciate is that the government of any country has a responsibility to ensure that civil society is not suddenly turned into confusion, conflict and dissension because they are forced to tolerate behaviour which goes against the grain of many Asian Singaporeans. And if the government fears that such an eventuality is possible, it is their duty to tread cautiously into such fundamental changes in direction.
You would appreciate that even a country like the UK, not too long ago, had laws which penalized homosexuality. Now of course it has moved ahead with changing times. The question that Mr. Ravi should address, is not whether the the letter of the law requiring equality has been transgressed; what he should be asking himself is whether Singapore's culture and tradition is the same as that of London, England. Most would say probably not.
Singapore is primarily made up of Chinese Malays and Indians. Many Chinese are first generation who had even themselves come from China many years ago. The same with the Indians. In the Muslim tradition, sodomy between men is even punishable with death. In other words Singapore is a very Asian conservative society and it is not Amsterdam and never will be. Furthermore, the proportion of homosexuals in Singapore is very small. I do not believe that it is the intention of the government to make homosexuality entirely illegal or they could confirm that people will not be prosecuted if it is done in private. But I think the Singapore government will not be able to legitimize it with the present Asian conservative population that we have.
What Mr. Ravi appears to be doing is to think that because the letter of the Constitution says the there should be equality, then it should be applied regardless of the situation and complied blindly to the letter. This is not correct. We know for instance that in ecclesiastical law, the Vatican will not permit the Pope to be a woman. The Hindu priest in the temple is always a man and the Imam in the Masjid is also one. The Constitution has no right there.
Mr. Ravi goes on to say that acts which are between consenting adults should, as a matter of course, be made legal, as long as it does not offend or harm others. This is like saying that smoking heroin is all right, so is gambling or prostitution. One can see that this argument cannot stand. The state has a responsibility to prevent actions that may tend to corrupt and undermine the social and moral fabric of society. Even in California today, prostitution and gambling are illegal and men and women are regularly hauled before the courts in such violations. California makes no excuses for their actions.
Professor Lee had gone on to give other reasons why homosexuality should not be made legal such as increased risk of decease and the lowering of moral standards of society as a whole to which Mr. Ravi has attempted to give a wide variety of reasons which appear all to miss the mark. In fact Professor Lee need not have gone into the these other reasons at all. It was sufficient for Professor Lee simply to say that Singaporean society at present, is not yet prepared, by reason of diverse makeup of different enthincities and it's Asian conservative culture; Singapore is presently unprepared to open it's doors into officially legalizing homosexuality. I think what Professor Lee is also trying to say is that the government sympathises with the plight of homosexuals and would perhaps grant some concession, short of officially giving it the seal of legitimacy.
I am merely stating my view of what the position of law is on constitutional issues. It is not to be understood that I support or oppose either viewpoint.
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Posted by Gopalan Nair at 1:19 PM